Frequently asked Question for Code Enforcement
On This Page
Frequently Asked Questions for Code Enforcement
To make a code violation complaint regarding suspected building, zoning, grading, or well & septic issues within unincorporated Sonoma County, please follow the instructions on the Make a Code Compliance Complaint page.
We do not accept anonymous complaints. You may request your name and contact information be kept confidential. (Which will not be disclosed unless court ordered by a judge.)
We receive complaints from a number of sources including internal referrals, outside agencies and the general public. Of those complaints received from the general public, we may offer to keep a complainant's name confidential for various reasons. A court order is required to find out the complainant's name if we agree to confidentiality. If a complainant is not concerned about confidentiality, their name is public record.
The Sonoma County Code imposes mandatory civil penalties for building, zoning, non-storm water discharges and certain health code violations. These penalties may be calculated in one of two different ways. When a permit can be issued to legalize a violation, penalties may be imposed from three to ten times the base permit fee. If the violation cannot be approved or legalized by a permit, you will be given (30) days to cease the unlawful use or demolish the unlawful structure. If you fail to comply with our direction, you may be penalized anywhere between $5 per day up to a maximum of $500 per day.
Where you fall within this penalty range is based upon the following:
- The seriousness of the violation. Could the violation harm human health/safety or the environment?
- The length of time the violation has existed.
- The diligence and cooperation of the property owner.
- The affect of the violation on other properties.
- The owner's level of responsibility for the violation. Did the owner create or add to the violation?
Code Enforcement staff strives to assist the property owner to obtain compliance. If permits are not obtained, a "Notice of Abatement Proceedings" will be recorded against the title of the property. This recorded document serves to notify the public of the violation and may prevent you from selling the property or obtaining refinancing or title insurance on the property.
In addition, an administrative abatement hearing may be scheduled in an attempt to gain compliance. If the Hearing Officer orders that you correct the violation and you do not comply, your case may then be referred to County Counsel to be pursued in Superior Court. This could result in a judgment against you, increased costs and penalties, the County entering your property to physically remove the violation, and in some extreme cases, owners may be sentenced to jail time.
The Code Enforcement Division records several types of liens against the title of property. The type of lien is dependent upon the type of violation and the level of abatement. The lien types are:
- Notice of Abatement Proceedings
This type of lien does not specify a dollar amount needed to remove the lien. This document is recorded to notify any prospective buyers or lenders that violations exist on the property.
- Partial Abatement Lien
This type of lien is recorded after an administrative abatement hearing is held and the Hearing Officer orders a property owner to correct a violation and payment of costs and penalties. This lien serves to notify the public of the violation and may prevent the sale or refinancing of the property or prevent the owner from obtaining title insurance.
- Supplemental Abatement Lien
This type of lien is recorded when additional costs are incurred after recording a partial lien.
- Notice of Lis Pendens
This is recorded by County Counsel when a lawsuit is filed and is in addition to a partial abatement lien or notice of abatement proceedings.
These documents remain recorded until the violation has been corrected and costs and penalties are paid.
Civil penalties are mandatory under Section 1-7.1 of the Sonoma County Code, except under the following circumstances:
- Penalties are not imposed if the owner chooses to demolish the unlawful construction and obtains a demolition permit within 30 days of violation notification.
- Penalties are not imposed on permits to correct substandard housing conditions if the property owner obtains a repair permit within 30 days of violation notification.
- If the property owner establishes that a) when the property was acquired, the violation existed on the property and, b) that he or she had no knowledge of the existence of that violation. The property owner can submit property disclosure statements or other documentation to the Code Enforcement Manager and request that he or she be excluded from these penalties based upon being an "innocent purchaser".
Permit fees are based upon the complexity of the project. Staff will assist you in determining your cost.
If you suspect there is a code violation on another property, you may Make a Code Compliance Complaint and provide this information. A Code Enforcement Inspector will investigate the matter. If a violation is found to exist, the owner will be contacted by letter and required to remove the violation and/or obtain the necessary permits for the violation.
Under most circumstances you will be given 30 days. This may involve simply stopping the illegal use or obtaining the necessary permits. Under some circumstances an extension of time may be granted when the property owner is steadily working to resolve the problem and is making progress.
I disagree that my property has a violation. Can I appeal the staff's determination of the violation?
You can appeal any determination of violation. Your appeal right is included in each notice sent and specifies how long you have to submit an appeal. Appeals of some determinations require a fee. We suggest the owner respond in writing immediately to avoid the loss of appeal rights.